The cardigan doesn’t yet realize the effect it will have on the woman with the tortoise shell glasses. It hangs, quiet and listless on the rack between a hoodie and a vest, ignorant of the power it holds. How could a simple garment woven together with cotton threads and synthetic fibres be expected to foresee the impressions it will stir up in a complete stranger’s mind?
It is a modest sweater, slightly ashamed to be cast into the donation bin by its original fickle owner, but proud of its shining black buttons. It us unaware of the woman as she wanders through the thrift store, distracted, moving from one rack to the next as though nothing in the world could ever make her smile. When her hand passes over the spot where the cardigan dangles on its hanger, she pauses, and the cardigan shivers as the woman lifts its sleeve up and extends it into the air like an invitation to dance.
It’s the bicycle pattern, spreading in neat rows across the cardigan, that does it. The clever idea of some trendy designer that catches the woman’s attention. A hundred images rush forward from the recesses of her mind; childhood bike rides to the park, her younger siblings learning to balance without training wheels. Scrapes and bruises, flat tires and broken bicycle chains, even a clown on a unicycle. Each of these scenes fades quickly into obscurity though, because the thing about bicycles is that they always make her think of that one night a long time ago.
The cardigan thrums with hope and expectation as the woman drapes it over her arm and continues to rummage. In the change room, it glides over her shoulders and hugs her body tightly, attempting to show itself to the best advantage. The woman preens this way and that, and the cardigan sees the reflection of the woman’s eyes in the mirror, wide and wistful. The cardigan is confused, its view expands and shifts, and it is transported. It struggles to adapt its vision as its fibres fuse to the woman’s skin, as it relives a buried memory. Feels every moment keenly, like an actor in a scene that is happening here and now.
She is younger, only a girl, and seated off kilter on the front handlebars of a swiftly moving bicycle. Legs dangling on either side of the narrow spinning spokes, streetlights spilling a soft glow onto the cracked pavement of the road. She’s been told to never ride like this, but she doesn’t care because the beautiful boy’s breath is on the back of her neck.
He steers her smoothly over sidewalks and speeds past a cemetery with low brick walls and a wrought iron gate. Gravestones glow in the moonlight, and the girl is briefly sad because she knows that she too will lie cold in the ground someday. At the same time, she is wildly happy because right now she’s alive and full of anticipation and riding on the front handlebars of the beautiful boy’s bike.
The cardigan absorbs all this in a strange form of osmosis. It is animated with the breath and beating heart of the woman, infused with her every fleeting thought. The cardigan is briefly sad because it knows the woman will soon take it off and lay it down somewhere alone and the bond between them will be broken. At the same time, it is wildly happy because right now it’s connected to her and touching her skin and experiencing the delightful torture of being human.
The woman carefully takes the cardigan off and holds it up to the light, inspects the tag, and replaces it on its hanger. She exits the change room to roam the aisles and the cardigan is certain that it will soon find itself abandoned. It almost doesn’t believe it when the woman places it gently on the check-out counter. Rapt with joy, it listens as the cashier comments in a sing-song voice, “Great sweater, I just love bicycles.”
“Yes,” the woman replies, “I do too.”
The cardigan nestles itself inside the shopping bag, overcome with an unfamiliar desire. It is content to have found a home, but impatient like a lovesick teenager for the time when it can slide over the woman’s shoulders once again.
Sara Dobbie is a Canadian writer from Southern Ontario, Canada. Her work has appeared in The Lumiere Review, Maudlin House, Menacing Hedge, Trampset, and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter @sbdobbie or check out her website at sarabeth1.wixsite.com/saradobbie